Dahlias, Clematis, Delphiniums, oxypetals and some bombastic garden roses. Sylvia Bustamante Gubbins (Santiago de Chile, 55 years old) recites the names of the race flowers while she points to each one with her finger. She doesn’t touch them, she just caresses them with her eyes. They are all part of a centerpiece that six students have just created according to the guidelines of Ana, a florist teacher who in another life worked in a bank. Today she is part of the faculty that Bustamante has gathered around her in a unique space in which she is surrounded by flowers that she does not sell, but rather uses to teach how to make centerpieces, bouquets and arrangements. floral. When she arrived in Spain, she spent months thinking about what she was going to do. The question was between a florist and a florist school. She won the last one and thus, in 2019 and a few months after the covid pandemic, Madrid Flower School was born. “When I got here, I didn’t find a place to continue training myself. So I opened what I would like to have found, ”she sums up.
He came to the flowers almost by chance. Bustamante remembers that all the women in his family were fascinated by them. She grew up in a house with a diplomatic father and flowers in vases everywhere. An aunt of hers was the president of the Lima Gardening Club. Her grandmother had her flower-covered Bible and a flowered rug hanging on the wall. But Bustamante ended up studying for a career in History and later becoming a travel journalist at El Mercurio. “The flowers were always there, but I had nowhere to study art,” he confesses. Suddenly he arrived in New York. And, in the middle of the city with the most concrete in the world, the flowers arrived.
In 2017, Bustamante moved there with her four children, all college-age, to study for her and for them to study. She decided to do a master’s degree in creative writing at New York University. Behind, in Chile, there were almost five decades of his life left in which he had had time to marry very soon, to have children very soon (at the age of 25 he already had three), to overcome a divorce followed by 10 years of internal healing. and fall in love again.
Her second husband was the rock on which she leaned to pack her bags at 50. “I went from having a husband who wants you to be pretty and receive guests to having a man who if you tell him ‘I want to go study in New York’ answers you ‘let’s go’. I went from a vase woman to a florist woman,” Bustamante says as she laughs. During the writing of her thesis, the most painful memories of the time she lived through after her divorce floated back in her mind like oil stains in a pool of water. Bustamante realized that she could not continue living only in her head: she needed to do something with her hands. He first signed up for ceramics, but with a ceramics brother, all of his creations ended up being influenced by his style. Suddenly, one day, searching for what to do on Google, he saw some flower art classes. “I found the flowers and they changed my life, they gave me joy. I discovered what Americans are so looking for and call ‘the passion of your life’.
The first floral art class she received was at the Botanical Garden in New York. There they made him create a triangular composition, something very classic in the world of florists. “When I did the whole floral arrangement, I remember that I didn’t want to put a final flower, which was a carnation, because I didn’t like how its color combined, and the teacher forced me to put it. And even so, I arrived home happy, as if I had discovered something incredible. I was fascinated.”
After two years training with the best florists, Bustamante and her husband moved to Spain. It was 2019 when the idea of the floristry school had already fully taken shape. Ahead was one of the worst litmus tests that businesses have had to face: the confinement due to the covid. “If they had told me that the pandemic was coming, I would not have opened,” she says from the ground floor of her school. Here, the cold keeps the flowers alive. Suddenly, she approaches a bucket full of pale pink mini gladioli and exclaims with joy: “Oh, but how cute! They’ve all been opened.” For her, the hackneyed phrase “uglier than a cow thistle” lacks any truth. “All the flowers are pretty, there are none ugly, and the one that you don’t see as pretty is because you haven’t found a place for it to shine,” she says.
Eight years ago, when Bustamante was a travel journalist, he did a report on several Spanish five-star hotels. “I found everything: plastic flowers, vases with rotten water and others who had them very well,” he confesses. In his opinion, in Spain he takes little risk with flowers: “People are still very jack, horse and king. They buy the carnation, the rose and the lilies”. And, although new winds are beginning to blow in the industry, floral art, so fragile and ephemeral, is considered a luxury even by those who market luxury. “I remember a very fine hotel manager, but very fine. We were eating in the old cellar of a convent, around there were some wonderful vineyards, and I told him: ‘But you don’t have flowers in your hotel.’ And he told me: ‘No, the flowers die’. I replied: ‘What am I going to tell him? That fantastic bottle of wine also disappears when you drink it. Now his claim is not only to teach floral art, but to make it accessible. “I would love for Spanish supermarkets to sell flowers like in the United States or in Chile. I think that having flowers at a good price will make people want to have them in their house”.
During the day’s flower arranging class, Bustamante reaches out to each and every one of his students. He gives them advice, tells them off if the stems aren’t submerged in water (“it’s too hot, the flowers are dying!”) and compliments them when they deserve it. “I would have been fascinated to know the world of flowers before,” he admits. “All things come for a reason and at their time, but what I am trying to do here is that what happened to me does not happen to others. That they discover all this when they are young because there is a whole career, and this is art, but they also have to live from this, they have to be able to feed a family”.
He also gives advice for all those who have a bouquet at home: first, cut the stems diagonally; second, to have the water in the vases clean; third, change the water every three days. And the fourth and most important: observe the flowers, their curves, their nuances, because none is the same as another. “People don’t realize what’s around them. He doesn’t stop to look. Deep down, we eat plants, we make medicines with plants, we are so overwhelmed by things and surrounded by things that we have not stopped to look at nature”, says Bustamante.
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